Keeping Your Patient Schedule Full with a Cancellation Plan

May 4, 2018

When a patient calls and cancels a scheduled appointment, medical practices need to be ready to jump up and act immediately, or risk lost revenue and diminished patient care.

Every patient has an effect on the practice’s bottom line. Missing just two patients a week could potentially mean losing a minimum of $150 of revenue a week, which amounts to an $8,000 revenue loss in only one year. Allowing this to continue year after year can certainly affect the practice’s revenue negatively over time.

That’s not exactly small change, and it’s certainly money you can prevent from flying out the door if you have some policies set for dealing with gaps in the schedule due to patient cancellations. Through careful pre-planning and adopting best practices for maximizing your providers’ treatment time, you can proactively minimize losses due to cancellations.

Make your “Short Call List” a High Priority

If a practice has the resources, it’s smart to keep an on-call list of patients willing to fill canceled appointments immediately. (Note: Dental offices are very good at this)

Try to compile a “short call list” that includes any patient who is willing to take the next available appointment. (There are a number of ways you could formulate the short call list; for example, patients who call and ask to get in quickly should be presented the option of taking the next available open appointment. Tailor your method of recruiting short call listers to your patient population.)

Keeping this list might prove a challenge at first, but it will pay off for the practice in the long run. In many areas of the country there are physician shortages and in these cases, you’re almost guaranteed to be able to fill an appointment slot that becomes open, so keeping a list of patients who would like to be seen sooner if something opens up is a great idea.

Caveat: Don’t go overboard with filling every open time slot that unexpectedly comes up. There is some benefitto leaving open appointment slots when someonecancels.

Leaving gaps purposefully on a schedule can be a good thing. It allows practices to book urgent patients in the same day. This style of more open scheduling is very prominent and effective for certain specialties such as pediatrics.

I have seen many practices use open scheduling, where a certain number of appointments are left open for same-day patients. So, if someone cancels and you employ open scheduling, you might not want to fill the slot. Consultation with your providers can help you make the decision on whether or not to fill an unexpected schedule opening.

Consider New Patients When Short Call List Fails

Even if you do have a set policy for filling unscheduled cancellations and a short call list, it won’t always result in filling the time slot. When your short call list is exhausted, experts say there are several actions a practice can take to maximize the extratime:

  • You could use the opportunity to contact someone who is likely to receive a low-level service, such as an established patient reporting for a medication refill, and see if they can fill the empty slot.
  • Staff could use the time to catch up on other work they have to do (paperwork, emails, ).
  • If a new patient calls to make an appointment, you might offer that day’s open slot to them. This would make a great first impression on a new patient calling for an appointment. “How refreshing would it be to be told ‘Dr. Mason has an opening at 1:00 P. today; would you like to see himthen?”

Filling open slots in the schedule may seem like a very difficult problem, but it can be easy to solve at a high level. When trying to create a solution for your practice, remember to have empathy for all the different people involved, including the patients, physicians, administrators, and all who are affected. Focus on the execution of the plan on a pragmatic level, not a theoretical one.

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